Latest Developments, April 24

UN peacekeeping

In the latest news and analysis…

Killer fashion
Reuters reports that a building that collapsed in Bangladesh – killing nearly 100 and injuring over 1,000 – contained five garment factories with links to major Western brands:

“The website of a company called New Wave, which had two factories in the building, listed 27 main buyers, including firms from Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Canada and the United States.
‘It is dreadful that leading brands and governments continue to allow garment workers to die or suffer terrible disabling injuries in unsafe factories making clothes for Western nations’ shoppers,’ Laia Blanch of the U.K. anti-poverty charity War on Want said in a statement.”

Pension-fund ethics
Reuters also reports that Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is considering divesting from oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, that operate in Equatorial Guinea “where oil revenue does nothing to relieve abject poverty”:

“The fund, whose investments totalled $725 billion on Wednesday, invests Norway’s revenues from oil and gas production for future generations. Exxon Mobil was its tenth-largest equity holding at end-2012, according to its annual report.

The fund has frequently excluded companies for what it deems to be unethical behaviour based on the recommendations of its ethics council.

U.S. energy companies Marathon Oil and Hess Corp also operate fields in Equatorial Guinea. The oil fund owned 0.76 percent of Marathon Oil and 0.69 percent of Hess at the end of 2012, according to Reuters data.”

Political interference
The Independent reports that Britain’s finance minister, George Osborne, has “a secret veto over large and potentially politically sensitive fraud investigations”:

“Under a government agreement the Serious Fraud Office must get permission from the Treasury to launch any complex new inquiry which comes on top of its normal budget.
But controversially the Treasury can keep its decisions secret – potentially allowing it to veto politically sensitive fraud inquiries, either before or midway through an investigation, without public scrutiny.

[Transparency International’s Robert Barrington] said there was potentially a ‘clear conflict of interest’ in the Treasury’s role promoting economic growth and deciding whether to investigate a UK company for misdeeds in a foreign country which might damage its reputation and finances. ‘Either by design or accident you could easily get a situation where egregious corruption is simply not investigated,’ he said.”

Split jurisdictions
Mining.com reports that a Chilean court has upheld the suspension of Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold’s Pascua Lama project but construction is continuing on the Argentine side of the border:

“The appeals court in the northern city of Copiapo charged the Toronto-based gold miner with ‘environmental irregularities’ during construction of the world’s highest-altitude precious metals mine.
Chile’s environmental and mining ministries are on record backing suspension of work on the Andes mine. Opponents claim construction has spread dust that has settled on the nearby Toro 1, Toro 2 and Esperanza glaciers, accelerating their retreat, and is threatening the Estrecho river, which supplies water to the Diaguita tribe living downstream.”

Drone flip-flop
Foreign Policy reports that US Senator Rand Paul, who grabbed headlines earlier this year with a 13-hour anti-drone filibuster, has caused outrage with a “perceived reversal” on the subject:

“ ‘I’ve never argued against any technology being used when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on,’ Paul said. ‘If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and fifty dollars in cash. I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.’
While it’s true that Paul has always made an exception for ‘imminent threats’ — a 9/11-like moment — the liquor store scenario struck many libertarians as a very low threshold for domestic drone strikes, especially considering Paul’s Senate floor remarks, which if you recall, took a more anti-drone stance. Here’s Paul on the Senate floor:
‘I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.’ ”

Above the law
Radio-Canada reports that MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, is under fire for a lack of accountability over crimes allegedly committed by its members, including a Canadian policeman who fled the country earlier this year:

“Since 2007, there have been 70 allegations of sexual assaults committed by MINUSTAH members. But not one of them has faced trial in Haiti. [Olga Benoît of Haitian Women Solidarity (SOFA)] says these cases are ‘just the tip of the iceberg.’
In a report published last August, International Crisis Group, an NGO working on preventing armed conflicts around the world, recommends that the UN sign an accord with each country participiating in a mission, to establish ‘common binding investigative norms’ in order to ‘ensure that UN peacekeepers who commit crimes answer for their actions.’
[The Haitian National Human Rights Defence Network’s Marie Rosy Auguste Ducéna] believes Canada ‘also has an obligation to see the case reach judicial authorities.’
There is a possibility of punitive action against the police officer. An investigation is under way. But if there are sanctions, the police will not divulge any information, as they say all disciplinary measures are considered internal matters that remain between officers and their employers.”

Teflon miners
The Council of Canadians’ Meera Karunananthan urges the UN human rights council to challenge Canada’s aggressive promotion of the “logic of international corporate rights”:

“The abuses by Canadian mining companies are a systemic part of an economic development policy that disregards human rights and disdains the environment. It is no coincidence that Canada is now home to 75% of the world’s mining companies, the majority operating overseas. The Canadian government has accelerated its pursuit of investment treaties in the global south to serve the interests of the extractive industry. These treaties allow companies to challenge environmental, public health or other resource-related policies that affect mining profits.
At the same time, Canada allows its corporations to benefit from a climate of impunity, offering no legal recourse for adversely impacted communities and demanding no accountability in exchange for generous public subsidies, as the EU and other jurisdictions do. These conditions have made Canada a haven for the global mining industry.”

Deep solutions
So-called geek hereric Kentaro Toyama tells Humanosphere that technology “cannot fix poverty”:

“It’s certainly tempting to think that next generation of futuristic technologies can change the world. But Toyama has seen innovative technology rendered powerless, harmful even, in settings of severe poverty. He says the problems require even deeper solutions.”

Latest Developments, December 1

In the latest news and analysis…

Climate fund row
The World Development Movement’s Murray Worthy writes about civil society opposition to perceived attempts by the US and UK to turn the Green Climate Fund into a “Greedy Corporate Fund” at the Durban climate talks.
“The role of private investment in financing climate activities must be decided at the national and sub-national levels in line with countries’ priorities, not corporate bottom lines. The move to allow the private sector to go directly to the Green Climate Fund for money undermines the possibility of a democratic, participatory process for meeting the needs of communities struggling to fight climate change,” according to Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.

Durban deadlock
Columbia University economist Jagdish Bhagwati argues there is little hope of a meaningful agreement at the Durban climate talks due in large part to a growing “What’s in it for me?” attitude from the US in global affairs.
“Moreover, abandoning the Kyoto Protocol’s exemption of developing countries from obligations for current emissions, the US has insisted on obligations from China and India that reflect a common form of ‘taxation’ of emissions. But there are persuasive reasons why these countries insist that the obligations must instead reflect per capita emissions, a criterion that would require far greater emission cuts by the US than its leaders now contemplate.”

Big decision
The Tico Times reports Costa Rica’s top court has annulled a Canadian mining company’s concession for the controversial Las Crucitas open-pit gold mine and suggested the project’s approval may have involved corruption at the highest level.
“The court’s ruling is the latest in a long-running battle between opponents of the mine and Industrias Infinto, which is a subsidiary of the Canadian company Infinito Gold. The company was awarded a mining concession by then-president Óscar Arias in 2006, but lawsuits by environmental groups kept the project hobbled through November of 2010 when the Sala I struck down the project. Industrias Infinito appealed that decision.
Wednesday’s ruling, however, dismissed the mining company’s appeals. The court also asked Costa Rica’s public prosecutor to initiate proceedings to see if criminal investigations are warranted for individuals in the Costa Rican government involved in the mining saga, including former President Arias. The project was first proposed in 1993.”

Public-private police
An Atlantic article by Samantha Michaels looks into allegations that American mining giant Freeport-McMoRan is bankrolling the violent repression of an ongoing labour dispute at its Grasberg facility in Indonesia and, indirectly, the fight against Papuan separatists.
“Freeport has given $79.1 million to police and military forces in the past 10 years, according to a group called Indonesian Corruption Watch.  Most of that funding has been through in-kind contributions such as food, housing, fuel, and travel costs, but officers have also received direct payments. A report by the NGO Global Witness shows that, between 2001 and 2003, Freeport gave nearly $250,000 to a controversial commander who in 1999 led military action in East Timor, where soldiers killed more than a thousand people.
Since then, the security funding has grown: Freeport’s financial documents show that the company paid $14 million to support government security forces in 2010, up from $10 million in 2009 and $8 million in 2008.”

Giving with one hand…
The Guardian reports that Norway is facing accusations of hypocrisy for funding forest protection in Indonesia while its state pension fund invests in commercial projects that aggravate deforestation in the Southeast Asian nation.
“The UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency wrote in October to the country’s prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg to call for a new approach. The NGO said Norway’s financial involvement in Indonesia was a net negative for the environment. It said that the $30m (£19m) that Norway provided for Redd projects in 2010 is just of the fifth of the profits and a third of the investment value in companies involved in ‘logging, plantations, and mining companies currently deforesting large areas of Indonesia.’”

Bush in Africa
Amnesty International is calling on the governments of Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia to arrest former US president George W. Bush during this week’s visit over his alleged authorization of torture during his time in the White House.
“Amnesty International recognizes the value of raising awareness about cervical and breast cancer in Africa, the stated aim of the visit, but this cannot lessen the damage to the fight against torture caused by allowing someone who has admitted to authorizing water-boarding to travel without facing the consequences prescribed by law.”

Hunger crimes
Picking up on the recent claim by a UN official that the famine in Somalia is the result of crimes against humanity committed by the Transitional Federal Government and the militant group al-Shabaab, the University of Minnesota’s Abdi Ismail Samatar argues the accuser must also share in the blame.
“[W]hile the coordinator [of the UN’s Monitoring Group for Somalia] has blamed al-Shabaab for denying access to agencies like [the World Food Programme], the timeline of events appear to point the blame on the Monitoring Group’s tabloid-like research and report writing. We think that al-Shabaab is guilty of condemning people to starvation, but those who used the United Nations Monitoring Group as the vehicle to deliver unfounded half-truths also played a vital role in inducing the calamity by illegitimately damaging the credibility of WFP, which directly contributed to the dearth of food deliveries to the population.
The gossip-based report also indirectly precipitated al-Shabaab’s cruel decision and appears to coincide with the US’ decision to withdraw support for WFP.”

Philanthropic racism
The University of St. Gallen’s Martin Herrndorf argues the message of an ad intended to draw attention to global poverty – “Millions die, no one cries” – was undermined by its ethnocentric wording.
“Yet – ‘no one cries’ means ‘no one who is white and lives in places with fancy bus stops.’ Apparently, black people in poor countries crying don’t count. The poster thus is at least Eurocentric, if not outright racist.”